Archive: April, 2023

NAB joy for gear heads

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 26, 2023, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

All of the video nerds were out covering NAB last week, which is the big broadcast/video trade show. NAB is the National Association of Broadcasters, but like IAAPA, referring to the acronym often means referring to the trade show instead of the association. I've actually been to the show once, in 2011 I think, because I was already in Vegas for a Microsoft conference. It's usually pretty easy to get free tickets because most of the vendors are giving them away.

One of the things that I greatly appreciate right now in making a documentary is how inexpensive all of the gear is relative to what you can get out of it. It still requires knowledge and experience (I've definitely made some mistakes already), but what is good is really good. I could not have captured the same stuff a decade ago. The cameras were pretty good, even if they were mostly HD, but a lot of the peripheral stuff for lighting and sound was unreasonably expensive. It has changed so much.

Cameras are of course the first thing that you think about. While it seems kind of silly that anyone would have a say about what's "good enough," Netflix publishes an "approved" camera list. What I think they're mostly looking at is the minimum resolution and the color sampling ability of the camera. They want 10-bit color sampled at 4:2:2. Having compressed many things for YouTube over the years, I assume that they want this because it starts you out with enough information that the eventual compression for delivery doesn't result in banding or other weird artifacts. The point though is that there are a lot of cameras on this list now, many of which are under $5k. The AF100 I bought back in 2012 was $4k at the time, and it was regular HD resolution, 8-bit, 4:2:0 sampling for internal recording. The Canon C70 I have now, which is still going for $5,500, makes the list, but it can even record 12-bit raw images at 4K resolution, which is insane. That used to be the exclusive domain of five-figure cameras that cost at a minimum four times as much.

For the doc, I've bought better lighting, better wireless audio, a drone and faster memory cards. And Canon updated the camera with new features. In fact, another camera update is the only real camera news from Canon coming out of NAB. I suppose this is good because it doesn't create any new gear envy, and it shows that they're building on the platform that they already sold me. Other manufacturers made announcements, yes, but at the level that I'm working at, you pick a system and you largely stick with it. The lens investments are expensive so it isn't easy to switch. Sony or Panasonic might introduce the greatest thing ever, but I'm deep into the Canon lens systems.

And it's hard to see what the market share is in the broad sense. YouTubers love Sony, and for good reason. Their price-performance-feature ratios are really strong. They keep making better and better lenses, too. Some of the newer things shipped without features that are common in the Canon ecosystem, but they keep improving. All of the A-series FX variations are pretty great. No huge announcements from them either, but that's not surprising given the new cameras introduced in the last two years. Panasonic has surprised everyone with their latest mirrorless hybrid under the Lumix brand, and they have another one in the pipeline (and under glass at the show). I'm kind of disappointed that they haven't followed up the EVA1, which I almost jumped to a few years ago since it uses Canon EF lenses, and I'm very familiar with their gear.

One of the biggest darlings is Blackmagic Design, in no small part because of how great DaVinci Resolve has become for post production. I'm right there with them. Their series of cameras over the years have always pushed the boundaries of what was possible at lower price points, though a lot of pros weren't crazy about them because of certain reliability problems and software. It seems like most of that is behind them as far as equipment goes, and they're making amazing things. Having Resolve to tie it all together is a great strategy, too.

There is a lot of interesting new virtual stuff going on too, pushing the tech behind "The Volume" used on recent Star Wars stuff down to more common people. Robotic movement, drones and such are also getting better and cheaper. It's really cool to see.

Again, the relative stability on the camera scene is kind of a relief. Yes, 8K is nice, but I can barely keep up the hard drive size and speed race now. And until 8K TV's become commonplace, it isn't necessary yet. It took my personally about 15 years to go from HD to 4K in the living room, but I'm not naive enough to think the next interval won't be shorter.

All of this gear stuff is inspiring though. In fact, this weekend, I'm going to try to do some "cool" product photography for the doc. Here's hoping it ends up as cool as it seems in my mind!

Yo-yo feelings

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 23, 2023, 5:05 PM | comments: 0

That whole thing they talk about in therapy, the emotional battery thing, I deeply appreciate what that is lately. I have been up and down so much. What's difficult about it is that it's easy to conflate with physical fatigue and depression, because any of those things can have seemingly the same outcome. And by outcome, I mean flat on your back on the couch not really up for doing anything.

I probably spend too much time thinking about this sort of thing, but to my credit, I got hit with a lot in a very short time a year and a half ago. Emerging from the pandemic, I had an official autism diagnosis, ADHD and depression. Sure, I always suspected the first thing, but to land all of that in quick succession is a lot to take in. Not only am I reframing the context of my entire life, a journey that I don't think ever really ends, but I'm also trying to make sense of it in the moment.

The good news is that I find myself to be generally content, and that's a feeling I haven't had consistently in a very long time. But I also find that anxiety is creeping up on me a lot more than I would like. Mostly I'm worried about the interruption of the contentment. So it seems weird when I have days like this, where I'm just feeling completely spent and not motivated. But I'm realizing that spentness is not necessarily caused by depression, and that sometimes it's just that I've had "a lot" in front of me. Parenting, work and even my passion projects, often require a lot of intense focus and attention. That well is not bottomless. I somewhat blame my nonsense Midwestern work ethic, that thing where you're only valuable if you're on all of the time.

I'm not sure what I have to do to let myself just be when I feel like this. It's a transient state, it'll be gone tomorrow.

More movie shooting, but solo

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 20, 2023, 11:18 PM | comments: 0

I lined up a couple more days of shooting for today and tomorrow for the rum doc. I might have a title in mind, but I need to socialize it more. I came down solo this time, which I'm not crazy about doing, but I expected to do mostly handheld. Diana has to work and Simon has school, so I had to go it alone.

I looked through some of the new footage, 100 more gigs worth, and while most of it is fine, there are some real compromises that may be challenging to correct. I did several standup interviews with food truck owners right around sunset, and the lighting is, at best, suboptimal. I had a light with me, battery powered even, but I was so rushed that I just didn't make the time to do it right. Lighting is quite frankly the difference between good and not good, which is why with the time and patience on the last shoot, I captured some pretty gorgeous images. The forthcoming version of DaVinci Resolve has some crazy AI virtual lighting, and I'm hoping that will save the last interview. I also don't have a lot of experience shooting people of color, which can be a disaster if you don't get the exposure right. We'll see just how much dynamic range my camera really gets.

The emerging narrative is one of community and local business, which is largely what I was expecting. People in this area have seen some real shit over the last few years, with the pandemic and then Hurricane Ian. These food truck folks, and the restauranteurs, very much were at the center of helping people eat even when gas, propane and food was less than plentiful. Each one of these food truck owners has a great story. I'm excited to share it all, eventually.

All of that said, if I can be vulnerable for moment, I am still scared to death that this is going to suck. I caught myself thinking about it, and even having some feelings of dread, during our cruise last weekend. Yesterday I hated the idea of coming down, partially because I was by myself, but partially because I felt like I wasn't going to get anything good out of it. Even now, I'm not sure exactly how I set up that they do this monthly Tiki Bash, because it in and of itself isn't really a story, it's just something that happens. There's plenty of narrative baked into the food truck folks, so I'm good there. Tomorrow I'm going to see some of the bottling in action, and one of the distillers is hopefully going to get as nerdy as possible about the chemistry of the process.

The two most terrifying uncertain things are music and graphics. Obviously I can't afford to license really good music. If I can find someone with a vibe to write some stuff, for a reasonable amount of money, that would be killer. I don't even know what the vibe is, but for some reason, it feels like it should involve a ukulele. I mean, OK, that's not a stretch... there are tikis everywhere I go. But then the graphics, I have some things in mind that I don't think I can manifest myself. And there is some animation, likely to come out of the chemistry bits of distillation, that I know I can't do. I don't have that audio recorded yet, but there could be personified molecules or something, I dunno. I'm thinking big for that.

Those last two things, I have already decided, will be the most expensive parts of the movie. I'm not some dickhead who will go to artists and tell them, "But you should do it for the exposure!" That would certainly piss me off. My totally arbitrary budget for the film is $10k, and so far I've spent about $3,600. There will be more on travel, but I'm fairly certain that I don't need anymore equipment. (And mind you, I'm not counting anything that I've already had for a few years.) It's an expensive-ass passion project, but who knows, maybe I can sell it. See, there's me getting over my fear.

Disney Wish, Bahamas, April 14-17, 2023

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 18, 2023, 8:41 PM | comments: 0

We were pretty fortunate to do the maiden voyage of the Wish last July, which is to say we have nearly useless bragging rights. It was so great though to spend five days exploring a completely new, and significantly different ship, even though it really wasn't quite done. We had been looking for an excuse to go back, not that we needed one, but our anniversary seemed like a pretty good reason. And then to make it more special, we decided to go the distance and book concierge for the special occasion. We've done concierge twice before, on the Dream, and found that the experience is kind of worth it, but you probably won't make up the cost in exercising the perks (mostly alcohol). So why do it again? The Wish has twice as many rooms, and an extremely well thought out lounge, sun deck and such that is fairly large in scope. So we figured we'd give it a shot.

The post-Covid check-in at the terminal is much better than the old system. Just as they've done in the hotels, they have cast members with iPads instead of people behind desks. The hard work of getting your photos and passports scanned happens at home on your computer, so they don't have to do much beyond making sure that you are you. Platinum Castaway and Concierge still have their own lines, and there was almost no one in either when we got there around 10:20. Once inside, they converted the very tip of the building that used to connect to the gangway into a larger concierge lounge, with a fridge full of beverages and room to stretch out. It's a little awkward because you have to pass the actual gangway where they scan you in, and there are no restrooms there.

Once onboard, around 11:30, we were ushered into 1923 (the "Walt" side) for lunch. It's the same menu that anyone can get in Arendelle, but that's fine since there isn't anything on the menu that interests me anyway. I was crazy starving, so I split from my family a little early to head up to Donald's Cantina on deck 11, where they have really fantastic tacos, burritos and bowls. New since last time, they have some kind of spicy green rice that's amazing, as well as more salsas and hot sauces. The counter service choices are a level up from the other ships, though it's frustrating that, except for the pizza, they're not usually open late. Given that this was only three nights, I did not get to eat all the things that I wanted. Marceline Market, the buffet, I only saw on day 3 for breakfast, and I never got a crack at the barbecue.

Concierge rooms are available at 12:30, so I ditched my backpack and changed into slob shorts and flip-flops. Diana and Simon caught up and we went into the concierge lounge. They were serving a bit of wine and sparkling wine, and some great snacks. We met some of the staff, all of whom came ashore to introduce themselves before we boarded, and did a quick walk around the decks. They have two underutilized hot tubs and a big waterfall seat (you'd have to see it). From here I also noticed that a SpaceX Falcon 9 had recently been plucked off of A Shortfall of Gravitas, one of the landing drone ships. First time I've seen one returned from space, though we saw launches on both of our previous cruises.

There were a few quick naps, Simon went off to the pools, the muster drill, and shortly before five we were offered the liquor of our choice. We became quite infatuated with the "Rose Diamond," a drink that they serve up in The Rose bar. It's lemon vodka, St. Germaine, Chambord and Prosecco, and it's magical. There's also nothing to dilute it beyond the shaking over ice, so you want to sip that one. As a picky eater, I probably have no right to say this, but I was disappointed that people weren't more adventurous at an open bar with experienced bartenders and premium spirits. Yeah, I'm looking at the people who ordered Bud Light or Malibu and Sprite. We discovered the diamond because I said, "Surprise me" with a signature drink.

For dinner the first night in Arendelle, we were just ten feet from the stage, a serious improvement compared to being essentially in the kitchen last time. Once again, I was super impressed, and this time Olaf-on-a-cart was working perfectly. They use some of the songs cut from Frozen 2, the extra songs on the deluxe soundtrack, which I respect. I wish they'd do "I Seek The Truth," which should have never been cut from the film. The food was pretty great, and I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed it all. It's not quite dinner theater, but hearing a violinist shred "Into The Unknown" is pretty great.

We returned to the lounge for another drink after dinner, and made our way to the Seas The Adventure show which was a largely forgettable. We also saw their updated Little Mermaid on the second night which had great performances, and it was better than the national tour from a few years ago, but it wasn't OMG musical material. But hey, another concierge perk, the popcorn is free, and not just bagged stuff.

After closing the concierge bar, we did some walking around to find the ship more like we were used to on the others, with the adult crowd being pretty thin. This was not the case for the maiden voyage because there were only a few hundred kids on that sailing, as dibs to book were ordered by number of previous cruises, meaning few kids. So it's very much like the old days of what we expected, great service, not busy bars. We met up with one of my former coworkers for drinks before scoring late night pizza.

Needless to say, our second day started slower. We never go into Nassau, because it's just another shitty tropical tourist trap. We usually try to score our Palo brunch then, which is free to Platinum Castaway Club members. They call it "Palo Steakhouse" on this ship, and the decor is different, but it's the same menu. Insanely good service for insanely good food. We mostly sat around throughout the day, which was kind of the point. Our only activity was another mixology class, a tradition, before dinner. Learned another variant on known recipes, this one being a "Peach Crush," which is vodka, peach schnapps, Prosecco and a little cranberry juice. Without the Prosecco, I call this a peach cosmo.

Dinner was in 1923, the least interesting of the three, but the food was good. It's where they have my favorite tomato soup. All of the eating (and presumably some of the previous day's drinking) made me pretty uncomfortable, so I was content to relax in largely private spaces as it got later. The front deck off the concierge lounge was an amazing spot from which to watch the sunset, with just a light breeze as we cruised pretty slowly toward Castaway Cay.

We didn't get up terribly early on Castaway day, but did finally make it to breakfast around 9:45. I have no self-control, and I don't normally eat breakfast, but I load up on the scrambled eggs and potatoes. We exited the ship shortly thereafter, and the weather was the kind of hot that you want on a beach day. Simon insisted on taking the tram while we walked, and then he had to pick up the float that I pre-ordered. We all got pretty frustrated when the onboard chat failed to stay connected (it extends to the island when at Castaway Cay), so it was hard to explain to Simon where we were.

By 1pm, I was starting to get a little hungry, and it's my own fault. The food on the island is, probably OK for others, but my one option, the chicken, is always dry and terrible. They get the hot dogs right, if you eat hot dogs, but the food mostly blows and they have to know this already. But it's been bad for a decade. For awhile they had some spicy chicken sandwiches (think an elevated version of Wendy's spicy chicken), but that's gone. So I decided to go back to the ship, figuring that Diana and Simon would probably be an hour or so behind. I had the great Tex-Mex again onboard. Here's the thing, as our dinner servers pointed out, they can arrange to get me pretty much anything on the island. Concierge could have done it too I'm sure. And I know this from 23 cruises. But that feels so entitled and high-maintenance and I feel embarrassed to even ask about it. The picky eating is likely autism related, but I still feel bad about owning it.

The food thing has genuinely interfered with my beach zen. There have been times where we were first off the boat, spent the middle part at the Conched Out bar, and very nearly closed the island. Those were pretty great memories. It's weird how food still derails me in some ways, as a grown-ass adult.

The rest of the family resumed ship-based activities by mid-afternoon, and I was resolved to work through the lingering bloated feelings by walking about. It was at this point that I recalled one of my favorite and least favorite things about the Wish. The favorite is the mixed-used common venue, Luna, right in the middle. It's a brilliant space that you can see into when you go buy, inviting you to stop in. They do magicians and game shows and bingo in there. The least favorite thing is that the ship lacks a proper continuous loop promenade deck. I absolutely loathe this, because when you're eating and drinking for sport, movement is what keeps you going. We would always walk a few miles, at least once a day, on the other ships, but that loop doesn't exist on the Wish. So unless you like shuffleboard, there's almost no reason to even go out there. There are no decks that have straight-line outdoor walking/running room. I will be thankful for this on our summer trip to Northern Europe, which will be on the Dream.

Before dinner and pre-dinner drinks, I popped into the Hyperspace Lounge, which required reservations that we couldn't get on the first one. Now it's manageable, and I sat down at the bar to once again meet a bartender who worked in The Rose on the first trip. I challenged him to make me "something with rum," and he did a variation on the classic daiquiri. That's not a slushy, it's rum, lime juice and usually simple syrup, but he mixed it up with aged rum (Zacapa) and a little a little Prosecco instead of the syrup. It was not a Star Wars drink, but again, when you trust experienced bartenders to make stuff, they make great stuff.

The last dinner was in the Marvel restaurant, which I think is fun. The "quantum cores" on the tables vibrate and light up and have buttons, while the filmed stuff is custom for the ship and includes Ms. Marvel, Captain America (the new one) and the sexiest man alive (last year), Paul Rudd. I got a high-five from Spider-Man, which was awesome.

The last evening required Simon to be in bed at a reasonable time because he had school the next day, which also meant that he couldn't do the closing ceremony stuff at the kids clubs. He was lucky to even be there after we had a call from the youth counselors (story for another time), but he did get quite a few laps on the Aqua Mouse and the lifeguards remembered him from the maiden voyage. He even got a pin and a certificate from them, as "Happiest Aqua Mouse Rider." Despite our frustrations with him a lot of the time, DCL always manages to make him feel special and included, and their kindness is what a kid who doesn't easily fit in really needs from time to time.

I napped after lunch, so I was not ready to turn in. I closed the concierge bar, then wandered into Nightingale's, where we had the mixology, and made conversation with a guy who happened to be a software developer. When that closed, I did a few more laps around the quiet, empty common spaces. It was raining outside.

So was concierge worth it? For the three of us, this particular itinerary was about 90% more for three nights, which is to say, I would not describe it as a "value." On one hand, we only purchased two drinks the whole cruise, but we didn't drink thousands of dollars in alcohol either. The problem is that these 3 and 4-nigh Wish cruises are already more expensive per person, per night. Europe and Alaska are (mostly) significantly cheaper per night. So this ship and these Bahamas itineraries are in high demand. The only way this is a "good deal" is if you value the extra attention and service, the concierge spaces and the open bar. And while these are nice, you might not bother with other stuff on the ship. I'm glad that we did it, and got to see it, but there's no universe where the extra cost makes sense. You have to be OK with it just being a more premium experience, not proportionately more valuable. We may do it again years from now, but it won't be a habit. We could almost take two cruises for the same cost.

Has the Internet cheapened experiences?

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 13, 2023, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

Ugh, this is going to suck, because it's feeling like I'll be falling into the classic "now you're your parents" trap. But unlike the Boomers, my generation experienced a profound transformation, in adulthood, in how we do literally everything. Because the Internets.

Let me give some context. One can, today, subscribe to a streaming music service, and at the very moment something comes out, hear it instantly. Even if they don't, they can buy a file that can be played back everywhere, also instantly. When I was in college, you would read about some new album coming out, or hear it on college radio, wait for it, then physically go to a store and buy that physical CD, which was awesome because you could skip around fast, unlike the cassettes you bought in high school. Or, you did another Columbia House subscription, and got ten CD's for a dollar, with the promise to buy three more at a 40%-ish markup, and they came slow, by US Postal Service, in weeks after you mailed in the card to them. My point is that the immediacy you get today lessens the investment in what you eventually get. When you had to wait, you were going to listen to an entire album, and you were going to listen to it a lot, until you decided whether or not you liked it. It certainly helped back then that there was an effort to craft albums, 40+ minute experiences, and not just a hit single to get clicks.

It hasn't changed everything though. Buying tickets to see a band life is decidedly awful because of the Ticketmaster monopoly, and the feds reluctance to break it, but admittedly it's better than going to a mall, waiting in line at a department store for U2 tickets, and then not getting them because they sold out. Weirdly, the seller was still Ticketmaster, but in 1992 I was gonna pay maybe $30 for that ticket. A lot for the time, but let me tell you about the buying tickets to see Tears For Fears, in the sixth row last year, for $330 each. There was a certain equity among fans back in the day, but now, it depends on what you can afford. Having been to no shows at all in years, plus Covid, plus Garbage opening, plus being in my late 40's, I was ready to spend whatever it would take. Fortunately, the feeling in the moment of seeing a good show, months after you bought the tickets, has not changed. Seeing that show last year is one of the best things I've experienced in maybe the last decade. I'm not even exaggerating.

Going back to buying stuff, in the last four months I've bought a lot of peripheral gear to make my movie, and obtaining it has been stupid easy. It's still a thrill to get it, but the thing that has totally changed is the in-person shopping experience. Today, we read reviews, watch video reviews, research products in a matter of minutes. We used to have to go to stores and look at stuff, and wander around in a store trying to decide if it was the right thing. I remember in particular this agony over buying some Bose bookshelf speakers. That turned out to be a good choice. Over 25 years later, they're what's still sitting in my living room, sounding amazing (with the help of a subwoofer I bought late last year). Extend this to the buying of music and movies as well. The act of buying a physical thing was so different.

Travel... that's actually better. For my first honeymoon in 2000, Stephanie and I spent quality time with a travel agent, at a AAA office (we were members!), to book our thing. And when we got to the Big Island of Hawaii and were disappointed, we called them and they put us back on a plane to Kauai, and we paid nothing for the hotel we hated. Today, you book stuff online, and you're good, ready to go. Still, taking a big swing to cruise Northern Europe, we used a travel agent for that, and to be honest, she added almost nothing to the process at all. Even now, I still need to book the bookend hotels, and I'm going to do that myself. Heck, she got credit for the cruise, and we even started that process with a 10%-off placeholder booked onboard on a previous cruise.

During the Internet-proper era, let's say the last 15-ish years, I've certainly made some larger purchases online, but it wasn't the same. I think about how I've replaced my home theater receiver twice in that time, because the technology evolved. If it was 1999, I would have been in a Best Buy over the course of weeks, going up and down the aisle looking at these devices, trying to decide what was right for me, physically seeing and touching the devices. But in this time, I just read about the specs, read the reviews, and determined if they would meet my needs. The outcomes were absolutely better, but oddly less satisfying. For reference, I found my old Sony dual-well cassette deck, and as soon as I find my tapes, I'm gonna plug it in and bask in the analog glory.

Honestly, things are better now, but there was definitely something more exciting about the tactile experience of in-person commerce, especially for expensive things. I mean, our last two cars were purchased entirely online, and few things felt as exciting as new car smell and test driving.

Suddenly desperate for air

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 12, 2023, 10:09 PM | comments: 0

I've done it again. There's this thing that I seem to do every year, where from the holidays to April-ish I don't really take any time off. And regardless of what's going on at work, I start to get burned out and tired in conjunction with the rest of life, including parenting and such. I'm feeling it right now. I desperately need a break.

Why does it happen? Believe it or not, part of it is actually having unlimited time off. The policy at any company is that does this is, "Take what you need," but people don't. It feels like a test, when you're in a relationship where the other person sets up an unspoken expectation that if you really love them, you'll know exactly what they expect. And that's ridiculous when I'm telling people that report to me that they should take more time off. If you're told you have five weeks, you'll take five weeks. It's literally part of your compensation. But without specifics, it's awkward.

But it's also that toxic Midwest American work ethic. I don't know where that programming comes from exactly. This year it feels like it's made worse because I'm planning to take two consecutive weeks over the summer, and I therefore should avoid taking time off before then. There's no logic in this.

So I resolve to take some long weekends between now and the Europe trip. I've gotta resolve to not do this again next year. You've gotta take care of yourself.

Getting up for school

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 12, 2023, 8:32 AM | comments: 0

This is one of those rare mornings where I have to attend to Simon in the morning, because Diana has an unusual early day shift. It makes me realize how weird it all is. He doesn't have to even get out of bed until after 8, and has be at school by 9:30. It's crazy how late that is, though it makes picking him up easier since he gets out at 4 most days, which I do when Diana works in the evenings.

But he has it crazy easy at the moment. High school will be certifiably awful, because he'll be getting up before the sun. I remember hating this myself, getting up before my parents, and falling asleep in class and struggling to stay awake. I'm sure it did not help with my grades, and knowing now that I have ADHD, I felt like I had a lot working against me. What's ridiculous since then is that there are mountains of data to show how terrible this early school is for the purpose of learning. It doesn't change because of bus schedules and parental expectations.

Just a reminder that being a teenager sucks. I suppose I'm happy for people who didn't hate it, but it wasn't a great time for me. I hope it sucks less for Simon, but so much of it is out of our control.

In search of inspiration

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 6, 2023, 9:10 PM | comments: 0

I was chatting with a friend the other night about where we get inspiration from, and by extension what motivates us. It sounds sad when I say it, but there aren't many humans that I have really looked up to professionally. I can count them on one hand. There aren't many personally, either. It may sound a little dramatic, but people mostly have been a huge disappointment. Meh, the feeling might be mutual, and that's fine.

I was on quite a creative streak for the last few months, but after that first weekend of shooting for my documentary a few weeks ago, I kind of crashed. I've largely resorted to engaging in passive entertainment in my free time. That's not unreasonable, as one can't be "on" all of the time, but what inspires all of that output? I have theories.

One of the biggest influences on my creative endeavors is my mental health. This doesn't work the way you might think it does. Opposite extremes make things happen. In the first few months of the pandemic, I was making all kinds of things. I did a radio show and made some silly videos and wrote 12,000 lines of code for fun, all because I needed to do something to keep from going batshit crazy. But the opposite is true as well, because I spent the last year feeling the best I have in years, probably because of bupropion. I am less stressed, though occasionally anxious, and I'm interested in many things. So I make many things.

This is going to sound weird, but often it's the tools themselves that inspire me to do stuff. I love my cinema camera and all of the other gear. I love my laptop. I love the software that I use. I love the learning that I do by watching what others are sharing online. When you soak it all in, and have the tools, how could you not want to make things?

The biggest thing though is undoubtedly that I thrive on intrinsic motivators. That act of doing the thing itself is what inspires me. That might be why I admire artists that worry about integrity and authenticity, because few things feel as real as making something that didn't exist before you made it. I guess that's why I've always fancied myself a rock star. The integrity and authenticity of creation, not the fame and trashing hotel rooms.

I still wish that there were other humans that would inspire me, but I always come back to that core aspect of creation. I've made things that didn't exist until I made them. That's very powerful.

My brain-gut thing

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 5, 2023, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

There is a fair amount of science being conducted around the "brain-gut" connection. The theory goes that your entire GI tract has its own "brain," a huge network of nerve cells that help your digestive system do what it does, and that in turn talks to the brain in your head. This is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it increases the complexity of how your digestive and nervous systems interact, and the way that they affect each other. Mood can be influenced by poor digestive health, and vice versa. As a person who has struggled with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) my whole life, you can understand why this interests me. It's also, unfortunately, another one of those things that is apparently taboo to talk about in polite conversation. And that's shitty. (See what I did there?)

About two years ago, I found myself taking Zyrtec every single day because my allergies were making me unusually miserable. By sheer coincidence, the algorithms put an article in front of me about a small research study on the effects of antihistamines on the gut. While the study could not conclusively prove causation (because of the design of the study and sample size), a non-trivial number of IBS sufferers experienced reduced to non-existent symptoms when taking an antihistamine versus placebo. I've been taking one daily since, and the symptoms are rare or relatively mild. It's not an overstatement to say that it has improved my quality of life.

The last few days, it has been pretty bad though. What I experience with that is a lack of motivation and poor mood, and with it, the realization that this was so common for much of my adult life. I never made the connection that when I was not at my best, I was also enduring IBS symptoms. What's even more interesting about this now, given the brain-gut research, is that the relationship may in fact be bidirectional. I've been feeling anxious lately, and I can't quite nail down the reason. Maybe because "things" are generally "good" and I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, as they say.

This is all conjecture based on my Google-foo, and I'm not an expert. Regardless, the last year and a half have been pretty interesting in trying to understand my mental health in a deep and meaningful way. In this relatively short time, I've back-filled my life with the new context of ASD and ADHD, acknowledged and mostly overcome depression, and now I can possibly work digestive health, of all things, into my toolbox of self-awareness.

Hurry up and relax: A peek into my brain

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 1, 2023, 3:40 PM | comments: 0

Isn't it funny, funny "yikes," not funny "ha ha," how the pandemic seems to have messed with our sense of purpose, priorities and perceptions? And alliteration? Core to this for me has been a growing understanding to listen to my own mind and body about what it needs in the moment, and give weight to that instead of what I think I should be doing. This hits me most weekends, where by Friday night, I'm like, let's go, let's do all the things. But then by Saturday afternoon, I'm like, wait, you've been engaged with obligations of all sorts for the last few days, take a breath.

I think some of it also has to do with the bupropion and levothyroxine that I now take. In 2021 I started on the thyroid meds, which changed my energy levels for the better as it countered the hypothyroidism that I didn't know I had. Then early last year I started on the bupropion to treat what was subtle depression. Because I was listening to myself, I realized that depression doesn't necessarily mean that you're suicidal, but if you're not feeling joy and swimming in a bowl of malaise, yeah, that's depression. I was so turned off from the idea of any kind of drug affecting "me," in part because I saw the wild things that ADHD meds did to my kid. I just never accepted that when they worked, they really worked. I definitely like me on bupropion better than I liked me not on it.

Then I layer in the acknowledgement of having autism and ADHD. I've obviously had both my entire life, but the formal acknowledgment has given me the space to be even more honest and present about where my head is at. The two conditions are often so tied to each other that it's hard to separate them, but while ADHD can be treated, autism can not. There was a chance that the bupropion could help with ADHD, as it's an off-label use. As a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), that's what they often do. In my case, it doesn't seem to help with it much, if at all. I struggled this week to do some technical writing, though interruptions probably had more to do with it than ADHD. Either way, I don't get annoyed with myself the way that I used to for not being able to stick to it. It's a far cry from the self-loathing in college over not doing that American Literature paper.

What surprises me though is the desire to do ALL THE THINGS. I'm a maker, and more than ever, I understand now that it's what gets me out of bed. I mean, I've committed to making a movie, which is not easy, quick or something that involves one skill. I think it's going to be really fucking hard. I can lean on my photography and editing skills, that's easy enough, but I've had to learn how to do lighting all over again, color grading, sound mastering, and motion graphics with modern tools. Oh, and I have to find ways to be a better storyteller, without even knowing yet what the story is. Documentaries are weird like that.

Oh, and while that's underway, one day I'm going to rip out the cabinets in our butler pantry and put some actually useful shelves up. But not just shelves, shelves with embedded lighting. I'm not likely done with automated lighting either, so I know that I'll come back to that eventually, and set off the fire alarm with the fog machine again. There is always LEGO to build. There's another forum software version in my future, and I'm not sure if I want to wait for the usual annual version cadence or release it sooner. That OAuth-only identity feature is a pretty big deal. There's also a web-based app that I would like to build for fun that I've been talking about for a couple of years. And I can't wait to go to Europe, and I'm thinking about how to document that trip without a ton of gear or annoying the shit out of my family.

Now put yourself in my brain. All of that is racing through my head all of the time. I'm not exaggerating. It's exhausting. Sometimes it's hard to know which thing to do next, and I end up doing nothing. Recall that I'm also a person who likes to stop and do nothing at all, and I'm starting to think that's more of a reaction to all the things. That's my brain.